WHEN a long-time friend of mine, Datin Dayang Mariani Abang Zain, called to ask me to ‘model’ with her in a fashion show organised by the Society for Cancer Advocacy and Awareness Kuching (SCAN), I was ‘thrilled’ (or was I?).
“The models are cancer patients, survivors and their caregivers. The two of us will come out last. We will do something hilarious,” she ‘enticed’.
Dayang Mariani is the advisor of SCAN. We were classmates during our primary and secondary school days. I was a beauty pageant organiser and she an owner of a business school when we were in our prime. She knew that I would not model on the catwalk but just for laughs, and the event, being for a good cause, I was game for it.
Having known each other for decades, we both know what crazy ideas we can cook up together, much more doing stuff that requires a high level of craziness and I must say, wits, of course. In this respect, we are a matching set.
Diagnosed with cancer
Both of us were diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010, and have been part of the SCAN family following the founding of the society in 2017.
We went through radio therapy and chemo at the same time, and laughed about losing our crowning glory and all other hair, taking it all with a dash of humour and comparing notes on our cancer.
“We have to add some fun to the show,” she enthused about the fashion show, particularly the last segment where we were set to appear.
“Sure,” I said.
“Now I’m thinking of how to make it funny.”
As a former beauty pageant organiser, I discovered a close relationship between comedies and beauty pageants, which led to my numerous comedy shows at the time. Most of the comedies were inspired by the things surrounding the pageants.
I thought those hustle and bustle days of showbiz were over for me, but Dayang Mariani’s idea stimulated my funny bone. The truth was there was not a time I could say no to her gentle persuasion.
Some of the things that she had asked me to do, had been more ‘suicidal’, such as speaking English with a heavy Iban accent in a comic presentation in front of a live audience, but I liked it all the same. One of the old Thomians who came to the show was still laughing after watching it.
“If I were at home, I would have peed on my pants,” he said to me laughing.
“Are you sure you didn’t pee there?” I teased him.
Dayang Mariani once asked me to interview a ‘pua kumbu’ (Iban traditional woven textile) master weaver in Iban in front of a live audience. The livestreamed chat show put me in a nerve-racking situation as I had to spontaneously interpret the questions and answers into English, and vice versa.
In fact, I had told her in all seriousness to look for someone else.
“You can do it,” she insisted, as though she did not know of my poor command of the language being an Iban born and bred in urban Kuching.
She often jokingly says that she speaks better Iban than me.
I was not spared from the ‘impossible task’ though. Two days before the livestreaming, I was told that there was no replacement.
Poor me, I had to learn new vocabularies, especially those used in Iban folklore, and practise conversing in the language, all in less than two days and all because my dear old buddy believed in me.
Thanks to my hard work, I received many thumbs-up for the job, and of course, Mariani was like: ‘See, I told you so.’
I had to sharpen my wits and skills to maintain the spontaneity of the chat show in two languages. It was quite a feat and I could not ask for more.
Fun during rehearsals
Now, back to our debut in the SCAN Fashion Show, I had to practise walking on six-inch platform sandals that Dayang Mariani knew I was in possession of.
She had such a good memory – she saw the sandals during a comic presentation I did years back. The last time I used those bulky stuff was in the mid-70s. Even the males’ shoes were as high as a piece of brick then.
“I have to wear my vintage sunglasses. I can only be crazy behind the sunglasses,” I enthused.
Some of the old-fashioned dark sunglasses not only looked hilarious, but I could freely max out my craziness when hiding behind them.
“I have to let her use whatever she wants, or else she won’t do it,” I heard Dayang Mariani saying to someone, but I knew she loved my ideas as much as I did hers.
I also had to practise to trip over my platforms a little, while Dayang Mariani practised to support me so that I would not fall.
I had decided not to pretend to fall in case the audience could not catch the joke and thought I really fell.
Someone might have a heart attack!
The two of us had a good laugh every time we made an idea work during rehearsals. During the show itself, Dayang Mariani modelled like a pro. I liked the way every time she did a full turn demonstrating a stylish little kick at every point.
“How did she do it?” I thought after watching the video of the performance.
As we paired up on the ‘runway’ flaunting designs from Edric Ong Collection, I showed off my skills on my platform sandals with my antics. We struck a few poses together just like two peas in one pod, drawing laughter and applause from the appreciative audience.
Dayang Mariani’s invitation for me to model with her in the hilarious ‘stunt’ brought back comedic memories from my beauty pageant days.
As a beauty pageant (mainly the Kuching City Queen Pageant) organiser for almost 10 years (late 1980s to 1990s), I could not help but share some of the funny anecdotes surrounding the organising of beauty pageants.
I remember organising a charity beauty pageant in one of the major towns in Sarawak – apart from the well-publicised ‘City Queen Pageant’, I used to organise other pageants, too.
One of the hopefuls selected for the final was a bit worrying as she did not quite have the physical attributes. The reason she was in was that she was found to be a bit brainy and conversant in English.
The problem began when the contestants started their training in pageant-walking, which was conducted by one of my City Queens, Yolanda Entika. As I noticed, the mentioned contestant was having difficulty in doing the walk, albeit how simple it was.
She looked as though she was attempting to do a balancing act on a hanging rope. Obviously, she was serious about contesting in the pageant that she forgot how to walk.
She was one of the early birds to register as a candidate. Our motivational talk for the aspiring beauties must have motivated her further.
I told Yolanda to ask her to do something about her hair as it looked very fluffy. When she returned the next day, I was taken aback to see her hair all glued up like she had been in a spider web.
“What happened to your hair?” I asked.
“I use hair gel,” she replied confidently.
As I went back to my hotel room, I could not help thinking about her.
“I wish she would just voluntarily withdraw from the pageant,” I pondered.
Later, I told Yolanda to be strict to her so that she felt pressured to quit, but as I found out later, it only challenged her to try harder.
Comedy of errors
Beauty pageants have their own comedy of errors.
I found that they did well to develop my sense of humour as I learned to be able to recognise and accept things as they were. It not only eased my nervous system, but helped my wellbeing.
This was just one of the many difficult, and yet, hilarious situations I had been in whilst being a pageant organiser.
The next day, after the grooming session was over, Yolanda came to me.
“You know what? She wanted to change her name,” she said with an astonished countenance.
“No, no,” I replied. “But what name did she choose?” I asked without a blink.
“Anastasia,” she said, raising her eyebrows.
“How did she know I wanted to give her anaesthetic?” I quipped.
“She must have a telepathic ability to come out with that name. When I was contemplating on a reason to have her out on the grand finale, the word ‘anaesthesia’ just popped out,” I amused, and we both laughed to tears.
That might sound cruel, but I could not help seeing the funny side of it. During the pageant’s grand final round, she almost failed to come on stage for her first appearance after her name was mentioned.
As the co-emcee, I had to move on to the next contestant. But just as the latter was about to finish her round, ‘Anastasia’ appeared on stage and so we had to reintroduce her.
Apparently, the edge of her gown got accidently hooked to something just as she was about to enter the stage earlier on. The scene, which was caught on video camera, was too hilarious. She was seen strutting back and forth near the stage entrance in front of the audience. It took a while for a stage crew to take her fringe off the hook before she could really take to the stage.
I admired her determination. As she claimed, she could have won in the pageant, but her gown got caught on a hook.
The charity beauty pageant ended on a good note. Again, it had taught me to accept bad situations with a sense of humour, and life became better.
No kidding, I remember bringing the finalists of one of my beauty pageants to another town in Sarawak for an educational tour and a special appearance at a fashion show there. I found myself a little confused one morning trying to figure out who was the friendly lady sitting in front of me during breakfast at the hotel coffee house.
I thought she was a friend of one of the contestants, but she seemed to know me so well.
“Who is she?” I whispered to a contestant next to me, and she mentioned her name to me.
In all honesty, I did not know that it was one of the contestants without her make-up on!
It was 7am and so, no time for make-up. I almost introduced myself to her.
I could go on and on with my anecdotes, but this much on paper for now.
Memory of the fleeting times remains a timeless part of me, bringing sweet and bitter refrains as I yearn to stay connected and begin to count the moments and days that brought so much fun, laughter, and tears to mortal beings.